My precious daughter (a senior attending a local high school) came home one day with tears in her eyes.
"Sweetheart, what’s wrong?", I asked and gave her a hug.
"Nothing," she sniffled.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
"Okay. I love you and I want to help in any way I can. Just let me know," I said with another brief hug.
I began to turn away but was immediately engulfed in a 30-minute, non-stop, emotionally-charged account of a heated conversation between three of her close friends that resulted in all three of them being mad at her and each other. It all stemmed from a single question one of the girls had asked about someone completely unrelated to their group.
"Do you think that dress is modest enough for a girl who says she is a Christian?"
Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.
- One of her friends was upset because she felt that the question was judgmental and "Jesus said we shouldn’t judge lest we be judged."
- Another was upset because she felt the question was legalistic and her mother had told her "we have freedom in Christ to dress however we want."
- The third was the young woman who asked the question and noted that the Bible said women were to dress modestly.
- My daughter’s contribution was the observation that Paul’s statements regarding modest attire had a specific historical context that was far different from our own modern understanding of "modesty". (I know. She is very much her father’s daughter.)
After listening, comforting her, and encouraging her to pray about her friends, I shared a few thoughts.
Jesus’ warning of "Do not judge so that you will not be judged." (Matthew 7:1) is about hypocritical, self-righteous judgment. I pointed out how, just a few sentences later, He says, "You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye." (Matthew 7:5) Christ also said we should "judge with righteous judgment". (John 7:24) As long as her friend wasn’t being hypocritically self-righteous then she wasn’t "judging" others in that sense Messiah was prohibiting.
The Biblical concept of legalism is "requiring someone to obey the law in order to obtain or keep salvation" (see Acts 15:1, Galatians 3:2, etc). Unless her friend was saying that a person had to be modest in order to obtain or keep their salvation then she wasn’t being "legalistic". That word is often just used as a scare tactic (like the terms "homophobic" or "racist") with the intention to stifle open and honest discussion.
In Galatians 5:1 Paul says, "It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery." This is explained in Romans chapter 6:
We do have freedom in Christ: freedom from sin not freedom to sin. Any concept of grace or freedom that makes us feel more comfortable sinning is neither Biblical grace nor Biblical freedom.
After sharing these ideas and offering a paraphrase of Paul’s exhortation, "so far as it depends on you, be at peace with everyone," I set out to do a little digging on the topic of modesty for myself, and I was quite surprised by what I found.
The only verse in the entire NASB translation of the Bible where the word "modest", "modesty", or "modestly" is found is in 1 Timothy 2:
All the brouhaha about Biblical modesty and the Bible has only one verse on the topic?
Perhaps it was just a matter of finding the right translation.
Searching through the ESV, NIV, NKJV, and others only added a 1 Corinthians 12 passage to my list of verses using "modesty":
Here Paul uses the metaphor of a person’s physical body to describe the body of Christ. But this is dealing with our "unpresentable parts" and it’s not like anybody at my daughter’s school is running around with their unpresentable parts exposed. [Oh, dear Lord, I certainly hope not!]
Some commentaries I read pointed to 1 Peter chapter 3 regarding modesty:
Hmmm. Maybe I was being too specific in my search. Maybe a definition of modesty will help me find some synonyms I can use.
- showing a moderate or humble estimate of one's merits, importance, etc
- freedom from vanity, egotism, boastfulness, or great pretensions
- behavior, manner, or appearance intended to avoid impropriety or indecency
Aha… now we’re getting somewhere!
There were plenty of passages that spoke about these ideas.
After my study, I shared these passages with my daughter and left her with these additional thoughts:
Modesty is about more than clothing.
It is about our speech, behavior, and attitude towards G-d and others.
Modesty is about beauty.
It is not the outer, sensual beauty the world seeks but the imperishable inner beauty G-d seeks.
Modesty is about living in freedom.
It is freedom from sin not freedom to sin.
Modesty is about both men and women.
It is walking in a manner worthy of our calling as children of the Most High.
Modesty is about who we worship.
Are we concerned about people seeing us, how we see ourselves, or about how Christ is seen in us?
Her eyes are dried. Her heart is filled. Her mind is readied. She shares a verse with me in return:
I know. She is very much her Father's daughter.